Four centuries ago Kung Fu Masters crafted their moves into the quick, pouncing movements of a Leopard. A century ago Okinawan Karate Masters took these moves and altered them to protect their ruler. Today, students know they have reached the heart of Real Karate when they dig into the secrets ofBassai Kata.
The leopard is one of the five original Animals of Shaolin. This feline beast is able to move back and forth with much power. The first moves of the form Bassai show this characteristic.
That the form is at least four centuries old is well established, as silk drawings of the moves of the form have been carbon tested. In addition to this scientific evidence, there are Chinese spellings of the form that are quite similar to the Okinawan. In the Mandarin language the form is spelled Baoshi, the Fuzhou translation is Bas-sai, and there is even an art, Ba Ji Ch’uan, that is spelled the same.
This puts forth the concept that the founder of Bassai, Ankoh Itosu, was inspired by the Chinese arts when he created the Okinawan version. Actually, records indicate an evolution of form from Sokon Matsumura to Koken Oyadomari to Ankoh Itosu. One cannot be sure, of course, but such a lineage could very well happen.
Once in Okinawa, the form became part of the training regimen of the king’s bodyguards. This brings forth the fascinating possibility that the form was tailored to the actual floor plan of the royal castle. Coming as it does after a student has mastered the Pinan Kata, this is a distinct possibility.
The name of the form is thought to mean ‘to break a fortress.’ However, this name was chosen by Funakoshi, and some scholars hold that his translation is not accurate. The original translation of the name is supposed to mean ‘to extract from a castle,’ or ‘to remove an obstruction.’
Thus, the bodyguards were not trained to ‘storm a fortress,’ but rather to remove the king from the royal palace. While the younger students created chaos and confusion in the throne room, the advanced students were trained to hustle the king to a rear hallway, and then to…’extract him from the castle.’ This is certainly a possible strategy.
At any rate, whether one chooses to enjoy this theory, or to adhere one of another devise, the points of similarity are certainly intriguing. This writer believes they are more than mere coincidence. One thing is certain, however, and that is that a student who Masters the Pinans will certainly be overjoyed to experience the quick yet powerful movements inherent in the Bassai Kata, and may be said to be duplicating the movements of the Kung Fu Leopard of Shaolin fame.
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